Friday, September 16, 2016

A Brite Tour through Hallmark Headquarters

Let me preface this post by saying that giving tours is not something that Hallmark employees do often, and it is something that the Rainbow Brite team had never done before. When I learned about Rainbow Brite Day and made plans to attend, I reached out to Headquarters to see if a tour could be arranged, but I had no expectations that they would be able to accommodate - especially with only a week's notice. To my delight, not only did they accommodate...they went above and beyond to make it a day that Renee, from, and myself will never forget.

Our main tour guide ended up being Master Arist, Peter Martin, who had created new artwork for Rainbow Brite in recent years, and is still an active part of that team. When someone mentioned his last name, I had an "Oh THAT Peter!" moment, realizing who I was in the presence of. He was a wealth of information and so very kind to spend so much time with us that day. We first toured around different departments of the facility, each with its own theme and energy. It was overwhelming being surrounded by so much creative talent. I can only hope that a tiny bit of it rubbed off on me!

As we rounded a bend, we ran into Brian Pilachowski, who was the Pop-Up Artist on the new book, Rainbow Brite and the Stormy Race. We had a moment to let him know how much we adore his work and get a photo with him before continuing on. During our walk, I spotted something bright and colorful, and instantly knew what it was - the prototype Jumbo Rainbow Brite itty bitty! I had seen her in pictures, but never thought I would get a chance to see her up close. Not only that, we got to hold her and have our picture taken with her! Squee!!

Next we were taken into the inner sanctuary - aka, the archives. Hallmark Archivist, Mark Spencer, met us there and took us in. I assumed we'd have to wear hazmat suits or something, but we did not ;) He had already laid out catalogs, original concept drawings wrapped in plastic, and boxes full of artwork for us to explore. We could take pictures of the catalogs, as all of those items were produced (and I did!), but, as expected, we could not take photographs of the archive artwork. Some of it we had already seen on the official Rainbow Brite Facebook page, but many pieces were brand new to our eyes and gave us the squeals! A particular drawing of Baby Indigo still stands out in my mind as one of the most adorable.

Peter and Mark both genuinely seemed to enjoy showing us the pieces, and we thoroughly enjoyed looking through them! Along with early concepts of characters, and characters in stances we hadn't seen before, we also learned facts, such as unused character names, concept names, and information about worlds. We learned that the Dark Princess (earlier concept and name, Empress Hysteria) lives on her own planet, and the "Prison Planet" she banishes people to is actually a moon that orbits her planet. We also learned that a new concept of Rainbow Brite was sketched out in the early 90s by a company who was absorbed by Hallmark. Nothing ever came of it, but seeing the sketches was mind-blowing! Mark was also having fun trying to find things we hadn't seen before, such as a product display (that Renee happened to already!) ;)

We took a break from the archives to meet the current team bringing Rainbow Brite back to life. They were all extremely kind and took some time to answer questions and show us some upcoming products. Kara explained why her voice sounded different between the two books (it has to do with the size of the speaker), Jack commiserated that when books come back from the printers, the illustrations are sometimes darker than expected, and Peter said they had intended to use the original head mold for the new Rainbow Brite doll. I still don't think he's sure why it was changed.

Jack also showed us an entirely new Rainbow Brite kids book that will be coming out soon. The colors on his computer screen were SUPER bright and saturated, so I think it's safe to say that many of my illustration complaints have not been his fault. He wanted to show us a second book as well, but we needed to move along in our tour. I'm looking forward to the release of them both. Then they gave us presents! We were not expecting that AT ALL. Molly Wigand was there, and gave us signed copies of her book, Wit and Wisdom of Rainbow Brite. We were given a Rainbow Brite itty bitty for everyone to sign, but ran out of time for them to do the signing (we were having too much fun!). They also gave us each one of the NYCC exclusive Rainbow Brite POP ornaments, of which they only made 100!! We were FREAKING OUT by that point, as we had been truly worried that we wouldn't be able to get our hands on one. It's the most limited Rainbow Brite item ever produced, so to say we were thrilled is an understatement. And to top it all off, Jack gave us original drawings of his artwork and signed them for us! It's a wonder we didn't faint right then and there.

Still reeling from the gifts, Brad Springer, Art Director for Characters and Licensed Properties, ushered us into a room full of products from several properties - Rainbow Brite being among them. Some items we had seen before, some were never produced, posters showed ideas of items that may yet be produced, and we got to see the non-glittery POP ornament (similar to the NYCC exclusive) that will be sold mass market this fall. We also had fun pointing out a couple of errors on a poster of Peter's artwork. Canary Yellow had a star on her cheek, and Champ was named Hammy...right next to the actual Hammy ;)

We also learned that some new products are more popular in other countries. For instance, Japan has licensed Rainbow Brite clothing, towels, etc that we don't have here, and some of the RB Pop items are already being sold in India! Jack Pullan has been designing the TeeSpring shirts that we've gotten over the past few months, so we have him to thank for that. Also, Feeln has given Rainbow Brite back to Hallmark fully. They will no longer be continuing the mini-series they produced in 2014, and Hallmark will be taking over Rainbow Brite's website and social media accounts.

I'm sure I've forgotten half the things I saw and heard. Most of the time, I thought I must be dreaming, and the rest of the time I was on rainbow overload. It was such a magnificent opportunity, it's definitely going down in my list of best days EVER! I want to thank everyone who pulled this together last minute and made it happen. All of those mentioned above, plus Erica and Sarah - you have my undying gratitude for making a life-long dream come true.

You can watch Renee and I squee about our experience that day :D

You can also catch some behind-the-scenes shots of our tour in PopMinded's coverage of Rainbow Brite Day!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Rainbow Brite Day

On September 10, 2016, Hallmark held a "Rainbow Brite Day" celebration in their Crown Center store near Hallmark Headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. It was a day to celebrate the success Rainbow Brite achieved in the 80s, showcase the individuals and products bringing success to the brand today, and tease fans with promises of items still to come. Employees from Headquarters and the store banded together to make the day spectacular, and let me tell you, it was over the rainbow!

Renee Stowe from, our friend Justin (and daughter), and I arrived at the Crown Center mall early to take a peek at what was in store for us that day. We already knew there would be meet and greets with two original designers (Jeanne Slater and Susie Cozad); book signings by illustrator, Jack Pullan, and writers, Melvina Young and Matt Gowan; a reading by the new voice of Rainbow Brite, Kara Goodier; coloring fun and costume contests. What we did not expect were the decorations, displays and coverage of the event.

As soon as we stepped into Crown Center, we were greeted by an enormous rainbow balloon arch. I immediately jumped on the escalators, trying to get a good picture of the magnificent sight. I had come in costume, so a photographer greeted me and asked to take a few shots. I was flattered! And not only had they erected a gigantic rainbow above the store - there were rainbow balloons greeting you at the entrance, along with displays of previously released merchandise, never released merchandise, new merchandise, and original drawings of landscapes and characters from Rainbow Land!

Since we had arrived slightly early, I was first in line to get my books, and other memorabilia, signed. The entire team was absolutely lovely. It was easy to tell that they genuinely enjoyed interacting with fans. They giggled at a few vintage Lurky-themed items I had brought for Jeanne to sign, as she was his creator. They were happy to answer questions and surprise us with new information. The writers of the new books were equally gracious, and Kara, the voice of Rainbow Brite in the new interactive books, was one of the sweetest individuals I've ever met. She was definitely the right choice for the job.

Hallmark's PopMinded crew was there covering the event, and I thoroughly enjoyed being interviewed by them. Christine and Kevin, being geeks themselves, understood the enthusiasm I hold for Rainbow Brite and how ecstatic I was to be in her birthplace. Peter Martin, who has produced new artwork for Rainbow Brite in recent years and actively works on the brand, had his cell phone at the ready to live-stream as much of the event as he could for out-of-town fans. Hallmark Archivist, Mark Spencer, and Art Director for Characters and Licensed Properties, Brad Springer, could also be seen amongst the happy crowd!

The store employees really got into the spirit by dressing in bright colors, wearing Rainbow Brite t-shirts and/or wearing stars and jewels on their cheeks. Not to mention their bright personalities, which could have un-murked even the gloomiest of customers! The activities - coloring, photo-ops, readings, costume contests - were all expertly executed. There were a few adult cosplayers, but the kids really took the cake in the costume department. There were a handful of little Rainbow Brites and a gaggle of the most colorful kids I've ever seen. They were clearly having an amazing time, and all of the parents I spoke with were also childhood fans of Rainbow Brite - so they were thrilled to attend as well.

(last photo source - Instagram)

As if that weren't enough, we also got a sneak peak at a new doll and a new ornament that will be debuting in stores this fall. I can't tell you how excited I am to know that Hallmark's line of Rainbow Brite merchandise still has a bright future ahead of it!

This celebration alone was so amazing that it would have justified my flying from North Carolina last minute to attend it, but the fun didn't end there. I got to meet several adult Rainbow Brite fans in person who I had previously only known online. One in particular, Brian, joined my Rainbow Brite mailing list in the year 2000, so I'd known him for more than 15 years! He has always been a valuable part of the fandom, so it was a real treat to give him a hug and express some of that gratitude in person. Another fan, Jane, has been on the Rainbow Brite message boards since at least 2005, if not earlier. It's wonderful to meet people in person whom you've known online for more than a decade! Especially when they are as sweet as Jane!! Jane's fiance, Michael, and another fan, Myra (and son), joined our brigade of Color Kids. And last, but absolutely not least, was our good friend, Justin, who helped make this weekend possible.

We made a few purchases in the Hallmark store, had some lunch, tried to recreate the photo of Rainbow Brite standing in front of the Hallmark Cards building, and even spent some time with Anita Marra Rogers, who sculpted the last two Rainbow Brite ornaments! Basically, we were having so much fun that, in the blink of an eye, the mall was closing and it was time to leave.

The day felt like a miniature Rainbow Brite convention, which is something Hallmark has never attempted before. It's difficult to put into words how amazing the experience was. I flew in from North Carolina, Renee flew in from Florida, and Jane and Michael drove four hours from St. Louis to be there - and that was only with a week and a half's notice that it was taking place! I'm sure if we had known about the event earlier, even more fans would have made the trip to Rainbow Brite mecca. My hope is that this will become a regular event in Kansas City and across the country in other stores. Perhaps this could even be the beginning of a larger event to come. A girl can dream!

I want to extend a huge THANK YOU to everyone who pitched in and made this event a reality. We appreciate your efforts so very much, and you all did an amazing job! I hope to see you again someday.


Here are more pictures and some video from the event as well:

Video: PopMinded's Coverage of Rainbow Brite Day

Photo Album: All of my photos from Rainbow Brite Day

Photo Album: The merch I got, and got signed, while I was in Kansas City

Photo Album: Pictures from vintage Rainbow Brite Catalogs